Of all the culinary traditions around the world, there isn't one more decadent than the pig roast. As a foodie, I've always wanted to attend one of these celebrations of all things porcine, and I finally got my chance recently at The Pantry Restaurant on Rodney Parham Road. Organized by local blogger Kevin Shalin and The Pantry's owner (and self-proclaimed "food evangelist") Tomas Bohm, the event saw a diverse group of doctors, lawyers, salesmen, news anchors, and table-top game enthusiasts all brought together by one unifying force: the promise of feasting on a tender roast suckling pig.
As the group gathered in the Pantry's waiting area, introductions were made and the excitement was palpable. The friendly waitstaff ushered us into a back room where we were greeted by plates holding a single unctuous bite of pate de campagne nestled on a crouton with just a touch of stone-ground mustard and a bit of cornichon. I've talked before about my love for this pate, and this lovely bit of the stuff made for the perfect amuse bouche. As our group settled in with our wine, beer, and cocktails, we were brought a small flask of a butternut squash soup that melded the sweet flavor of winter squash with a firm foundation of smoky bacon essence in away that was both refreshing and quite bracing, especially given the cold weather outside. These small openers were just a little taste of what was to come, however, as soon our main course arrived.
First, dishes of thick potato salad appeared, followed quickly by platters of red cabbage and sauerkraut. The mayo-based potato salad was rich at first taste, but the copious amount of fresh herbs atop the tender potatoes did a lot to add an excellent freshness to the affair. The red cabbage was a good mix of sweet and tangy, and I knew at first bite that it was going to be the perfect addition to roast pork. The Pantry's kraut is good, although the sweeter preparation with caraway seeds isn't my personal favorite. We passed around the dishes, family-style, moving past the opening "so what do you do?" type of conversation to more important issues: roasting versus braising, the relative merits and drawbacks of the maple-bacon doughnut, and whether or not manly men should order a cocktail on the menu called "Rhuby Sparkles" (for the record: yes, the artisanal rhubarb liqueur is fantastic).
We couldn't help but chuckle over this post from the blog of the Clinton School for Public Service, in which the blogger described just a few of the culinary oddities sampled by Clinton School students during their work around the world. Examples: Ostrich chili, hot and spicy spiders, fire ants with beef, and "Royal Rat."
Stay safe out there, kids, and keep up the good works. Don't eat anything that's still squirming.
On a record-breaking warm day for central Arkansas, Elevate Arkansas hosted their first Wild Plant Walk and Edible Foraging Series in Allsop Park in Little Rock. Advertised as a way to locate free and healthy food in your own backyard, at least 15 adults and a few children showed up for the walk, many with notebooks and iphones in hand ready to document information about each of the plants. We began the walk by looking through a few different books Elevate had on hand. Because so many plants share similar shapes and go through a series of budding and flowering stages, our guide noted, these guidebooks are an essential resource for both the inexperienced or veteran forager.
Led by Jeff Dempsey, director of Elevate Arkansas, the walk began near a stream that cuts through the park where we identified backyard stables like clover, the flowers and leaves of which can be thrown into smoothies or salads. Like dandelion, he explained, clover is nutrient-rich and abundant, and the flowers can be dipped into a batter and made into tasty, crunchy fritters. He then pointed out what most people consider a weed, a plant called henbit, a mushroom-tasting member of the mint family, which grows profusely in most yards. Like many of the plants identified on the walk, henbit can be thrown into a smoothie for a dose of powerful anti-oxidants. As we continued our walk, Jeff pointed out the steamable green curly dock, had us sample the edible flowers of the redbud tree (a mildly sweet flavor), and called attention to the veiny leaves of plantain grass. “Get a good handful of it and blend it with fruit,” he said, and you’ll have an instant “power smoothie.”
We continued up the rocky trail into more wooded areas of the park where we nibbled on peppergrass and greenbrier, and then sampled my personal favorite, the delightfully tart wood sorrel. With flavor like a fresh raspberry and high vitamin C content, I’ll certainly be foraging for sorrel to add to smoothies and salads. Dempsey was sure to point out the best way to identify edible plants is to first ID them during their flowering season. “When in doubt,” he said, “don’t try it.”
The walk focused primarily on ways to add some free and local nutrients to your diet. The topic of survival eating also surfaced a few times. Dempsey noted that during survival situation the insides of pine bark can be ground and made into flour and, in the most dire of situations, the majority of native grasses in Arkansas are edible.
The walk was slow-paced, informative, and loaded with unexpected flavors, definably worth your time if you have an interest in whole and local food. And you don’t need to be a hiker for this event to be worth your time. The majority of the plants probably already grow somewhere in your neighborhood.
The walk was the first of several taking place throughout Little Rock in upcoming months. The walks take about an hour and admission is by donation. Be sure and wear comfortable shoes and bring a long a camera for future reference. The next walk will be 2-3 p.m. May 5. For more information visit www.elevatearkansas.org.
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